Big Changes for the Champs
LB E.Dumervil, LB D.Smith,
DL C.Canty, S M.Huff, DT M.Spears
LB R.Lewis, S E.Reed, C M.Birk,
WR A.Boldin, S B.Pollard,
LB D.Ellerbe, LB P.Kruger
The Baltimore Ravens playoff run last season was pretty damn special.
The Ravens finished the regular season at 10-6 and won the AFC North but it wasn't until the post-season that they really hit their stride.
Buoyed by the return of Ray Lewis' return from a torn triceps, the Ravens marched through the playoffs and beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 for their second Super Bowl, giving their captain a fitting send off for a Hall of Fame career.
But the parade is over, the trip to the White House is done and the ring ceremony is in the past.
After a major roster overhaul during a whirlwind off-season, the 2013 Ravens are going to look very different from the team that hoisted the Lombardi trophy back in February.
Lewis rode off into the sunset, retiring following the Super Bowl victory as did veteran centre Matt Birk. Ed Reed left for Houston in free agency after a decade in Baltimore. Defensive starters Paul Kruger, Cary Williams and Dannell Ellerbe also signed elsewhere. Bernard Pollard was let go to save cap space. No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin was dealt to the 49ers and full back Vonta Leach is gone too. Even special teams took a hit as vocal leader Brendon Ayanbadejo was released.
It's a new era in Baltimore.
Changing Of The Guard
For the first time since the team moved to Baltimore, Ray Lewis will not be the Ravens starting middle linebacker heading into the season.
It's hard to picture the Ravens defence without him and longtime safety Ed Reed.
Those two were the embodiment of the Ravens hard-nosed, gritty defence for the last decade.
This might sound hard to believe, but their departures and all the other defensive changes might actually help the Ravens this year.
Sure, the Ravens will miss Lewis' and Reed's energy and leadership, but the fact is the team's defence last year was not as good as it had been in the past.
They still had a reputation as an elite unit but were actually middle of the pack. They were 12th in points allowed (21.5), 17th in pass yards against (228.1) and 20th against the run (122.8)
This year's front seven especially has the potential to be much better than that.
Terrell Suggs, who missed eight games last season with a torn Achilles' tendon and was a shell of himself after returning, is back to full health and should take over as the defence's vocal leader. He looks to be in great shape heading into the year and could be poised regain the form that saw him named Defensive Player of the year in 2011.
Opposite Suggs will be Elvis Dumervil, whom the Ravens nabbed in one of the real coups in free agency this year after a contract flap and fax mixup led to his release by the Broncos. Those two way more than make up for Kruger's departure in the pass rush department.
The team will also benefit from the additions of veteran, versatile defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears who will beef up the line alongside perennial Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti NGata.
The team also addressed a need at interior linebacker by selecting Arthur Brown with their second round pick. He's no Ray Lewis, but he doesn't have to be either with the talent around him. Brown and Jameel McClain should fill the middle linebacker spots.
The Ravens also addressed Reed's departure via the draft, using their first round pick on safety Matt Elam. Again, he's no Ed Reed, but the team isn't expecting him to be either and they will quickly get him into the mix.
At Corner, Corey Graham and Lardarius Webb, who is nearly recovered from a torn ACL suffered last September look to be the best bets to start. (-TSN.ca)
Joe Flacco told everyone who would listen that he was an elite NFL quarterback heading into last season.
AFC NORTH PROJECTIONS
Division Winner, solid season
5th in AFC, wildcard berth
6th in AFC, wildcard berth
Almost there, but tough division
Well, now he has a Super Bowl ring and a hefty new contract to back up his claim.
Flacco has come into his own as a quarterback over the last couple of seasons, allowing the Ravens to open up the offensive playbook.
However, the team faces some major question marks at receiver. Last year's No.1 in Boldin was traded away during the off-season and tight end Dennis Pitta, who looked poised to step up in his absence, was lost for the year to hip surgery.
That puts a ton of pressure on Torrey Smith to step up as the team's top receiver. Known as more of a deep threat, home run hitter through his first two seasons, Smith is going to have to adjust to seeing more balls come his way while dealing with more double teams.
Behind Smith, the wideout cupboard is pretty bare, leaving the Ravens to hope that one of Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, David Reed, Tommy Streeter, Aaron Mellette or some other longshot can turn into a reliable No. 2.
At tight end the Ravens are left with Ed Dickson and the recently signed Visanthe Shiancoe, but neither of them is the type player that Pitta is.
While the receivers may be iffy, the running game isn't since the team still has Ray Rice.
Rice is one of the best running backs in the NFL and may be relied to help out in the passing game even more than he already does with the all the holes at receiver.
He'll also be running behind a very solid offensive line. Other than the retired Birk, the Ravens return their entire offensive line from their Super Bowl run. The Ravens' line is currently eighth in TSN.ca's O-line rankings and could move even higher if Gino Gradkowski proves he is able to fill Birk's big shoes at centre.
What It All Means
This year's Ravens should still be considered one of the favourites in the AFC. Iit's certainly no guarantee that they win the division or even get back into the playoffs though. The lack of quality receivers could spell trouble for Flacco and the offence, while the talented defence will have a major leadership hurdle to overcome with the absences of Lewis and Reed. With a tough division and a tough schedule, this season could really go either way for Baltimore.
But until someone knocks them off, they're still the champs. (-TSN.ca)
Special Teams: K J. Tucker, P S. Koch, KR J. Jones, PR J. Jones
Special Teams: K J. Tucker, P S. Koch, KR J. Jones, PR J. Jones
Fantasy - By The Numbers
Aside from RB Ray Rice, who is still one of the top handful of backs in the game, the defending champions don't have premier fantasy talent.
Get ready for the fantasy season with the latest from TSN.ca.
Rankings: QB | RB | WR | TE | DEF
Fantasy Schedules: AFC | NFC
2013 Auction Values: Cheat Sheet
Fantasy Depth Charts: AFC | NFC
QB Joe Flacco comes up big in the postseason, but has yet to throw for 4,000 yards or more than 25 touchdowns in a season and he's going into 2013 without Anquan Boldin, one of his main targets last season.
That leaves WR Torrey Smith and TE Dennis Pitta as viable offensive options, but not at the top of the board. WR Jacoby Jones, who has made his mark in the return game, has a chance to provide value in deep leagues if he secures the No. 2 receiver spot.
Defence has traditionally been a strong suit for the Ravens, but they are also undergoing changes on that side of the ball, with longtime standouts Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, as well as younger free agents like Paul Kruger and Danell Ellerbe, moving on. Linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have big sack potential, which could make them valuable, and DL Haloti Ngata controls the line of scrimmage enough to consistently register a lot of tackles. (-Scott Cullen)